Schools in the north-east could have relaxed uniform restrictions when they open in August, education bosses have said.
The prospect of phased return dates for different classes, school making their own decisions, as well as logistics surrounding school transport were also discussed during an online live question question and answer session for parents with Aberdeenshire Council education chiefs.
It follows after John Swinney announced the Scottish Government hopes pupils will be able to return to school full time from this date, however local authorities also have a back up contingency plan to ensure they can support social distancing measures if this is needed.
Posted by Aberdeenshire Council on Monday, 29 June 2020
Director of education at Aberdeenshire Council Laurence Findlay and chairwoman of the children and education services committee Councillor Gillian Owen, held the session to discuss concerns parents may have over the planned return to school in August.
School uniforms were a topic of debate, with education bosses confirming that “undue pressure” will not be placed on families to adhere to strict school uniform policies.
Councillor Gillian Owen said: “One or two people asked if children will be expected to wear school uniform, in particular ties, which can pose an issue with infection control.
“What we’d say is young people should be asked to dress appropriately for school, but given the pressures many families will be under at present, no undue pressure should be placed on a young person to wear school uniform.
“It’s appreciated that some young people may stretch the definition of appropriate, and individual schools will work with young people and families on what is acceptable and what is not.
“In terms of ties, it’s important to remember the aspiration to welcome all pupils back to school in August, it’s dependent on the virus being sufficiently suppressed and successfully reaching or being well on the way to phase four of the Scottish Government route map.”
Some questions had also been received as to why there were not plans for a single schooling structure across the region, and why it was that education establishments had different proposals for dealing with issues such as blended learning, and the amount of time children will return to school.
Mr Findlay said that empowerment was a key feature the council was implementing – giving head teachers the power to choose what is right for their own schools.
He said: “One question we received on a number of occasions was around physical distancing. We have given all our schools the maximum capacity figures for each classroom across Aberdeenshire’s school estate, and we’ve got over 170 schools.
“The empowerment agenda is really important to us in Aberdeenshire. So while there’s robust guidance in place to support all head teachers, we also have to respect the empowered agenda and we value the empowered system greatly.
“It is based on the principle that schools should be empowered to make the decisions that ensure positive outcomes for their children and young people.
“This means there will be variations in how different schools operate, they all have the best interests of the children and young people at heart, which is of course guided by the council and by the government so we will provide a strategic framework for delivery.
“However, we will not micromanage our 171 schools, it’s up to the head teachers locally working in consultation with their staff, with parents and with young people themselves to develop the curriculum that best suits their needs.”
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It is also anticipated that pupils will not all return to school on the same day, with soft starts being proposed across the country to support young people, particularly those who are transitioning.
Mr Findlay added: “Most local authorities are encouraging their schools to have a soft start. So for example the first day back might be P1 and P2, and the day after P1, P2, P3 and P4 for example.
“By that point young people will have been out of school for five months so additional support will be required with regards to transition.”
He went on to say there is still a lot of information that the council does not have, as it is awaiting updated guidance from the Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland.
One of these issues is around transport, and how pupils will be expected to socially distance on transport.
The council has also started a survey to gather families opinions on school transport.
He said: “I know some parents were asking why have you put a survey out on transport. The reality is if we had a 16-seater bus, you’d only get four children on it.
“We wouldn’t have enough buses to transport everybody. We anticipate further guidance coming out but hopefully that will come in soon for transport.”
Further guidance including answers to frequently asked questions is to be published on the Aberdeenshire Council website in due course.